Congress Moves Forward with Imperfect Reform of DOD Acquisition Process

by Gary Therkildsen*, 5/8/2009

F-22 Raptor

Yesterday, Congress took an imperfect step forward with overhauling the Defense Department's major weapons acquisition process. The House Armed Services Committee moved their reform bill, H.R. 2101, the Weapons Acquisition System Reform Through Enhancing Technical Knowledge and Oversight (WASTE TKO) Act, through mark-up by a 59-0 margin. A similar acquisition reform bill introduced by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) unanimously passed the full Senate. Before passage of the bill, however, senators agreed to an amendment that, if strengthened in conference, would essentially nullify the purpose of acquisition review.

The original amendment, introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), would require the Pentagon to certify that the cancellation of a major weapons development program would not have a negative impact on the industrial base before that program could be shut down. As aptly pointed out yesterday by Mandy Smithberger over at the Project on Government Oversight, this rule would prevent the Defense Department from ever canceling a major weapons program again. Of course the cancellation of a program that will require over $2 billion to procure - the requirement for a program to be considered a Major Defense Acquisition Program - is going to produce job losses. "So, who cares how high the cost overruns go, or how obsolete the program becomes, we need defense contracting jobs," is what this amendment shouts, at least in its original form.

Luckily, the amendment was watered down to only require that Congress be notified of the impact, rather than requiring certification of a non-negative impact, which would never happen. It is important, though, that conference members who hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of these bills in the coming weeks remove this amendment from the final product. Congressional members may bitterly cling to defense contracting jobs out of parochial interests, but defense spending is one of the least efficient uses of government money to create jobs, and the rampant waste, fraud, and abuse within Defense Department spending must be addressed if this country's record deficits are to come down. That starts with legitimately reforming the way the Pentagon invests in and purchases major weapons programs.

Image by Flickr user dgroth used under a Creative Commons license.

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